If you’ve been feeling stressed lately, you’re not alone. In our day-to-day hustle, life can feel overwhelming and you may be experiencing tension. The good news? Mindfulness, the practice of being present, can help, the American Psychological Association says.
Deep breathing, a mindfulness exercise, can be practiced anywhere and at any time to cultivate relaxation by lowering your heart rate, decreasing high blood pressure and reducing tension when you feel stressed, per the University of Michigan Medicine.
One form of deep breathing is color breathing, a practice that combines creative expression with mindfulness. We spoke to Dr. Sophie Mort, a clinical psychologist and author of A Manual for Being Human, who regularly helps people manage their mental health. Here’s what she says about the basics of color breathing and how it contributes to mental wellness.
Healthified Magazine (HM): Thank you for speaking with us today. Tell us a little about color breathing.
Dr. Sophie Mort: We live in a fast-paced world, and an uncertain one. When we feel under pressure, uncertain or stressed in any way, our fight-flight response is triggered, changing the way we breathe. Instead of breathing slowly and deeply into our diaphragm, which is the sign of a relaxed body and mind, we take short, shallow breaths that only reach our chest, and that keep the fight-flight response going. Color breathing is a simple breathing technique that you can use at any time to trigger the relaxation response.
HM: When should we use color breathing?
Dr. Mort: I recommend that my clients use color breathing any time they notice tension rising in their body (if their shoulders, neck feel tense or their chest feels tight), when they feel anxious or angry, and when they can’t sleep. I also recommend people practice this once a day during times of calm, so that they are well versed in the exercise. The more you practice this, the more easily it will help soothe you when stress comes knocking at their door.
HM: How do we practice color breathing? Please provide your step-by-step routine.
Dr. Mort: 1. Choose a color. You can google color psychology to find out which color is linked to the feeling you are aiming for, or simply choose a color that you like and that feels soothing (or another emotion) to you.
2. Close your eyes, and take 3 slow deep breaths, down into your diaphragm (the lower part of your ribs).
3. Visualize the color of your choice. Imagine that you are breathing the color into your body with every inhale.
4. Imagine the color spreading through your body, all the way to your fingers and toes. If you notice your mind wandering, simply come back to the color.
5. Keep visualizing the color. Notice any sensations or feelings that arise, such as calmness or confidence.
6. Repeat for 5 minutes or as long as you can. When you are ready, open your eyes and come back to the room.
HM: What are some of the benefits of color breathing?
Dr. Mort: Breathing exercises help to trigger the relaxation response, and ensure that we breathe into our whole lungs. Color breathing combines what we know about the psychology of color plus breathing exercises, helping us achieve a soothed (or other) state more quickly. It also helps people who usually find it hard to focus during regular breathing exercises and meditation to stay present.